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Two Leafs Among Top Rookies

Friday, 18.11.2005 / 10:29 AM / News
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Two Leafs Among Top Rookies

November 18, 2005

(CP) -- Sidney Crosby's overtime goal was being replayed over and over on Thursday highlight packages from the previous night's NHL games.

Sid The Kid buried the puck behind Philadelphia Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki

on a breakaway to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory.

There's been no shortage of such spectacular plays by last summer's No. 1 draft pick. The 18-year-old Cole Harbour, N.S., product roofed a backhander to beat the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout last Thursday.

Crosby has scored nine goals and leads all rookies with 24 points in 20 games.

"Not many have come in with the hype and the buildup he's had,'' coach Ed Olczyk told reporters after Wednesday's game. "He's handled it very well.''

Crosby is getting a lot of attention, which he's earned, yet he's only one name on a long list of impressive newcomers.

Some would bet that Alexander Ovechkin will win the Calder Trophy.

Ovechkin gets a scoring chance and the puck is in the net. Automatic Alex had 14 goals and 19 points in 18 games going into a game against the Sabres in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday night.

The No. 1 entry draft pick of 2004 has more experience than Crosby. He's 21 and, with his NHL debut delayed a year by the lockout, the Muscovite played a fourth year in Russia's elite league before joining the Washington Capitals.

"He's very smart,'' says coach Glen Hanlon. "He's found ways to adapt and score in all different types of systems and environments.

"You can't be that good without hockey sense. He has that.''

Crosby and Ovechkin will be face to face for the first time in a regular-season NHL game Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Another rookie piling up the points is Marek Svatos, who has nine goals and 16 points in 17 games with the Colorado Avalanche.

The 23-year-old Slovak had large portions of his first two pro seasons wiped out by shoulder injuries but got his career back on track with a full season with the AHL's Hershey Bears during the lockout. He scored two goals to lift his team to a 3-1 win over Phoenix on Wednesday, while skating on the first line with Joe Sakic.

"He's got that desire to get to the net,'' said Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky. "I think he's going to be a tremendous player.''

Chicago's Pavel Vorobiev has six goals and 15 points in 18 games. Arriving from Russia's elite league, the 23-year-old winger got into 18 games with the Blackhawks in 2003-2004 and was with the AHL farm team in Norfolk, Va., during the lockout.

Alexander Steen had seven goals and 13 points for the Toronto Maple Leafs going into their game in Boston on Thursday. The Winnipeg product, 21, the son of former NHL forward Thomas Steen, might be the best two-way rookie of them all.

Steen, who is good enough to get frequent first-line play with Mats Sundin, had a plus-minus rating of plus-2, while Crosby was minus-4, Ovechkin minus-3, Svatos even and Vorobiev minus-2.

Philadelphia's Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Buffalo's Thomas Vanek and Paul Gaustad, Dallas' Jussi Jokinen, Toronto's Kyle Wellwood, Boston's Brad Boyes, Montreal's Alexander Perezhogin and Tomas Plekanec, New Jersey's Zach Parise and the New York Rangers' Dominic Moore give the rookie forward class more depth than usual. Expect Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, just returning to form after being out with an injury, to raise his profile in the coming weeks.

Among defencemen, Dion Phaneuf has been an instant hit with the Calgary Flames. The Edmonton-born basher out of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels leads all rookie defencemen with five goals and 13 points, including five in his last three games. He's no slouch in his own end either.

Brent Seabrook also has enjoyed a great start to his pro career. The Richmond, B.C., defenceman, who had his fill of Phaneuf when he played for the WHL's Lethbridge Broncos, has three goals and 11 points in 18 games with the Blackhawks.

Others near the top in scoring by rookie defencemen are Zbynek Michalek of the Phoenix Coyotes, Chris Campoli of the New York Islanders, Fedor Tyutin of the New York Rangers, Keith Ballard of the Coyotes and Ryan Whitney of the Penguins.

Jason Labarbera of the Los Angeles Kings and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, Ryan Miller of the Sabres and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes have been the most active rookie goaltenders.

Labarbera was 8-2-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .915 save percentage before the Kings' home game Thursday against Vancouver.

The 25-year-old native of Prince George, B.C., was a free-agent acquisition by the Kings after spending five years in the Rangers' organization.

"In the last few years in the AHL, I improved every year,'' says Labarbera. "I don't know what else I could have done at that level.''

Lundqvist, 23, balked at leaving Sweden and joining the Rangers until this year. He was the 205th player selected in the 2000 draft so big things weren't expected of him. But he went 7-2-2 record in his first nine starts to help New York to the top of its division. He had a 1.88 GAA and sparkling .935 save percentage before the Rangers faced the Hurricanes on Thursday.

"I'm a rookie but I played in the elite league in Sweden for five years and on the national team for three years so I've been playing against a lot of good players,'' he says. "The lockout helped me last year because a lot of good players played in Sweden.

"I think that helped me take this step this year.''

Hockey Canada was so high on Crosby, Phaneuf, Carter, Richards and Ward when it came time to submit its preliminary list of Olympic hopefuls that it included the five rookies among the 81 men it named.

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